You Got Swag? In-Person Book Marketing Tips!

You Got Swag

(Or at least you’d better … tips to in-person marketing)

by Rachelle J. Christensen

We’ve covered the basics of online and social media marketing (outside of Amazon ads). We know the websites to go to, the places where you want to make yourself known. But what happens when you have to actually do your hair and go outside? Part of getting the word out there is making appearances. Book signings, speaking engagements, book club visits, writing conferences, and more exist with great promotional opportunities for authors and their books.

Just as with social media, you may not have the time or the means to do all of these. You have to manage your time, gas money, and other expenses. You won’t be able to do everything, and that’s okay. Choose wisely those things you’ll enjoy that also offer the best exposure for you and your books.

I recently saw a T-shirt that says, “You got no swag.” Don’t be that person! Always make sure you leave people with something by which to remember you. I can’t count the number of times my writing profession comes up in a conversation and the person asks where they can find my books. They love it when I hand them a bookmark or a business card with the cover of my book on it. Even if your book is only available online, you’ll still have speaking opportunities and presentations where concrete marketing tools can be used. So what type of swag should you get?

  1. Every reader needs a bookmark! Use places like UPrinting or Vistaprint for fast printing at low prices. Consider what type of bookmark you would keep. Yes, you can get really cheap bookmarks, but you don’t want yours to be tossed because it can’t hold up to an avid reader’s demands. I always recommend printing a bookmark on at least standard cardstock paperweight—heavier if you can manage it. Plus you can do two-in-one duty when your bookmark is your business card.
  2. Invest in other swag like pens, T-shirts, and pins. Always have something on hand. One of my favorite swag items I ever got was from Bree Despain—nail polish to match the dress on the cover of her books. I had to get all three books just to go with my three new shades of polish!
  3. Posters are great giveaways, but they can get pricey. I’d recommend printing one or two posters on foam core that you can use at events.
  4. Consider that you create a moving billboard by making something a person can carry/wear like a T-shirt, a tattoo, a bag, a pin, and so on. Think of items that go with the theme of your book. Can you get people’s attention by making it funny or intriguing?

Now that you have some great swag, get out there and give it away. You could just hand it out to random strangers on the street, but your marketability will skyrocket when you put yourself where your target audience is. Here are a few places you should try to be.

  1. Offer to speak at local book clubs. Bring goodies in the form of bookmarks, pens, or behind-the-scenes details/deleted scenes from your book. Find a theme for your book and incorporate that into the evening. If your book is on makeovers, go ahead and throw a makeover book club night. While the ladies are having fun with lipstick and mascara, you can do a reading and maybe even a drawing for a free book. Another added bonus is that they may pick your book for their book of the month.
  2. Plan a launch party. Make sure that is FUN for YOU as well as engaging for your readers! This needs a book in itself. Best advice: the launch party isn’t about you; it’s about your readers and potential readers. What would attract you to a launch party? How about your mother, sister, friend? The point is to get people to come and then keep them there. Say your main character has a love for all things chocolate. Make sure there is a chocolate fountain at your party. Is he a golf fanatic? Have a putting green where people can putt for prizes. A recent eclair-eating contest at a signing attracted later online attention. Get creative!
  3. Volunteer to speak on writing in school classrooms. I have a twenty-minute presentation for elementary school grades that is fun and simple. This is not about selling my books, but I do send the children home with a bookmark. My point is to encourage reading and writing, but it becomes a win-win because it also provides one more avenue of exposure for my books. (Does the thought of speaking to a bunch of school kids terrify you? Keep watching the blog for an upcoming post on how to do this the right way.)
  4. Book Signings. Set up signings at local stores. Bookstores are the best, but I have bought many a book while running into Costco to get some milk. You can set up signings in conjunction with your school visits as well. Think of your signings as mini launch parties. You may not be able to go into all-out party mode, but you still want people to stop by. Do something to attract the attention of the shoppers. If your book has magic in it, perform a few tricks. Or have a drawing or contest. Anything that will make people stop and take notice is good. Give them something else to talk to you about besides your book. Making personal connections is really the key; they’re much more likely to buy your book if they’ve bonded with you—or buy it later or encourage a friend to buy—than if they’re steering clear because you both feel awkward.
  5. Writing Conferences. Local writing conferences are a great way to get your name to people who love to read and write. Find the people who are putting it together and offer to sit on a panel or teach a class; at the very least, ask about setting up a booth in the dealer’s room. Not sure where to look for the next conference? Your local library is a great place to start. Many of them have writing seminars and events. Call and offer to do a seminar for the local community, maybe even get a few of your author friends in on the fun. You can also check out our lists of conferences here.

These are all beginning suggestions to your path on the marketing trail. Remember who you are and be authentic to yourself, your book, and your writing needs. It is always great to get your face out there and get known. You should get out as much as you can to promote yourself, but sometimes jobs, families, and other obligations will keep you from hitting the road. So come back soon, because we’ll be exploring more ways that you can get out there from the comfort of your own home.

Excited about getting out there? Then do this now!

  1. Make a list of favorite handouts you’ve ever gotten from an author. Pick one or two ideas that are in your budget and have your unique version made. Remember to keep your book and characters in mind when you pick your swag. Keep your brand straight—use your cover or at least the same colors and fonts on all your materials so people recognize your swag in any form.
  2. Call your local library and set up a writing clinic or seminar. Libraries love volunteers! And librarians are the best people to whom to introduce your writing, as they will be the ones to recommend your books.
  3. Find your neighborhood book group or writing group and offer to speak to them, give them a demonstration on writing, or do something else related to the thing that makes your book unique.

Everyone loves free stuff. What’s the best swag item you’ve gotten from an author? Did it make you want to learn more about the book?

Awesome resources are at your fingertips.


  1. Sabine Berlin

    I loved the nail polish idea. I have a bag that I take to all the different conferences I go to. My favorite swag to get is pins to put on that bag. Plus everywhere I go people see those pins so it is good advertising for the authors.

    • angela

      I will admit that I’m a keeper of bookmarks and business cards. It’s almost worse than my almost-inability to toss reception invites or baby announcements of people I hardly know. I even have a business card on display because it’s so pretty. How insane is that? (No, I’m not actually a hoarder or anything.) But lovely things, by people I have some nice feelings for, which remind me about books I might want to someday read–that’s a recipe for can’t-toss-it disaster. So keep that in mind–many people really do hang on to stuff that seems too nice to throw away or for which they feel a vague sense of obligation. 🙂

      And then they act on the message of the thing they didn’t throw away. I recently finally bought the book of an acquaintance that I hadn’t intended to read (not really my favorite genre); but seeing it in the bookstore and knowing something of the author and what a deserving person she was, I gave in and bought it–just to be nice, and knowing she would never even know!

      In-person contact, connection–even on minor levels–and great swag will take you places and make buying friends of people you hardly know…(and I don’t even have buyer’s regret because I feel happy to have helped out a fellow writer). I have done this more than once…and so will those you connect with.

  2. Renae W. Mackley

    Loved Rachelle’s tips from both posts. Also loved the above button bag idea. It’s like Olympic pins on a hat. Also liked Angela’s idea to put something special like a recipe on the bookmark. Thanks.


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